3 Career Lessons from CNN Anchor and Novelist Jake Tapper was originally published on Firsthand.
Jake Tapper isn’t afraid of conflict. The CNN anchor and debate moderator is well known for asking his subjects and guests tough questions. So much so that The Washington Post has called him “tenacious,” “a merciless slayer of alternative facts,” and “the dogged deflator of political egos.”
It’s likely that you’ve seen Tapper’s contentious interviews of trusted Donald Trump advisors Stephen Miller and Kellyanne Conway (trusted by Trump, that is). It’s also likely that you’ve seen at least a few clips of one of the two CNN shows that Tapper hosts: “The Lead” and “State Of The Union.” In addition, you might remember Tapper’s work as moderator of a GOP primary debate back in September 2015 in which he had to juggle 11 candidates all vying for precious air time (“Jake, Jake, Jake!“).
Now there’s another place you can find Tapper’s work with conflict: in the fiction section of your local bookstore. Last month, Tapper published his first novel. Since then, he’s made several TV and radio appearances to promote his historical novel set in the McCarthy era. Tapper’s book, The Hellfire Club, has received mixed reviews (“intriguing” and “thrilling” but “uneven” seems to be the consensus). But no matter what critics and readers think about Tapper’s fiction debut, there’s much we can learn from the anchor, journalist, debate moderator, and, now, novelist. Here are three such lessons, all of which Tapper alludes to in a recent and very enlightening and entertaining (yet conflict-free) Fresh Air podcast.
1. A few minutes here and there adds up.
When there’s something you want to accomplish outside the realm of your 9-to-5, whether that be a write a novel or run a marathon, it can be a big mistake to tell yourself that you’ll get to it when you have “more time.” Life and work can be unpredictable, and it’s very possible that, right now, you have plenty of time to complete whatever it is you want to complete, maybe even a lot of time, maybe more than you ever will in your lifetime. And so, taking a page from the work ethic of Jake Tapper (who hosts TV shows six days a week, has to prepare for high-profile interviews and debates, and has a wife and two children), try doing this: working anywhere and anytime you get some free time, even if it’s just a few minutes. That’s how Tapper wrote his book over a four-year span. “I carried around a laptop with me,” he says, “and I just subscribed to the if you have 15 minutes here, or an hour there, or time on a plane, or time on a train, grab it, and the time adds up.”
2. Keep people around you who’ll tell you when you’re being a jerk.
All writers need editors. And all managers need employees who will challenge them. Enter Tapper’s “Jar Jar Binks principle.” The principle, according to Tapper, keeps you from being a jerk and doing anything less than you’re capable of. The gist of the principle is to make sure that, even if you climb to the top of your field, make sure to still keep people around you who’ll keep you honest, who’ll point out when something you do is just simply not good.
Tapper named the principle after the often-maligned Star Wars character created by the filmmaking icon George Lucas. “I think [Lucas] is one of the most brilliant people on this planet,” says Tapper, “but I don’t know what happened with those prequels. They are not good.” Along with Lucas, “President Trump is a victim of the Jar Jar Binks principle,” says Tapper. “I think he removes people from his life that tell him negative things. And sometimes for survival, they stop criticizing the president. Sometimes for survival, they leave.” Tapper, on the other hand, says he has lots of people who keep him honest in his life—”many, many people. Some are even in my house.” Which he points to as being very important to his continued success.
3. Your job, even when it’s extremely stressful, should be fun.
Your job doesn’t have to feel like one big happy hour all the time, but if you enjoy your work, even when your work gets difficult, that’s a sure sign you’re on the right career path. On the other hand, if you find yourself hating your job during busy and stressful times, it’s likely you’re on the wrong career track, not to mention you’re likely not going to do such a great job during that stressful time. Tapper, it seems, takes a lot of pleasure in his work when the pressure’s on, like when he’s working a political debate. Below is an exchange with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross about his work moderating debates.
TAPPER: Well, first of all, let me say that they’re so much fun. I mean, I remember watching … GROSS: Oh, God, are they really? TAPPER: Well, in a way. GROSS: The pressure must be so extraordinary. TAPPER: The pressure is very intense, and it’s very high stakes and all that. But as a political junkie, as somebody who remembers watching presidential debates in the 1980s, when I was a kid, it’s cool sitting in the best seat in the house and asking questions. That’s just fun. And, yeah, I mean … it’s not all fun. But that side of it is just an amazing experience and humbling and challenging.